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March 18, 2023

7 Tips and Tricks to Simplify Recycling

Recycling is a way we can all do our part to help keep the earth clean! It helps to conserve natural resources and energy, reduces landfill waste, cuts climate-changing carbon emissions and protects wildlife. But have you ever been confused about what can actually go in the bin? Cut through the confusion and click the link to get our 7 Tips & Tricks To Simplify Recycling!

Byline: BTB Editor

October 9, 2019 / Time to read: 5 min

By Heather LaCorte, founding editor of Better Living

There’s no denying that recycling is an earth-friendly habit that can help keep our environment clean, conserve natural resources, and cut down on pollution while benefiting the economy. And it’s important we all do our part. But, are you recycling the right way?

If you’ve ever been confused about what goes in the recycle bin, you’re not alone. About 30% of what gets put in our recycling containers doesn’t belong there. In fact, these “extras” we’re throwing away in hopes they get recycled, can taint an entire truckload of recyclables sending them to the landfill. Kind of defeats the purpose, right? If you want to finally cut through the confusion surrounding recycling keep reading for these simple recycling do’s, don’ts, tips, and tricks!

1.  Don’t be a “Wish-cycler”

Whenever I clean out a closet, I usually find at least a few things I want to get rid of. But do you ever get that icky feeling putting something that looks perfectly good in the trash? Sure, you haven’t used it in 12 years, but does it really belong in the landfill? Don’t think of throwing it in the recycling bin to ease your guilt. The recycling gods won’t descend and turn your old bowling ball into something recyclable. It’s not going to happen. And while done with the best intentions this bad recycling habit is really counterproductive delaying sorting at the recycling facilities and clogging machinery. Things like garden hoses, old tangled strings of Christmas lights and that boombox you got back in high-school don’t belong in the recycling bin. If they’re not in bad shape, consider donating them to a local charity or thrift store so they can be reused.

2.  Don’t Recycle Anything Smaller Than a Credit Card

In the quest to be a recycling guru you may be tempted to recycle every little thing you can. But small pieces like bottle caps, shredded or tiny pieces of paper, and can tabs can get stuck in the recycling processing machines. When in doubt do the credit card test. If it’s bigger than a credit card, it can be thrown in the recycling bin. If it’s smaller, toss it in the trash.

Don't recycle anything smaller than a credit card: bottlecaps, paper pieces, etc.
3.  Keep Things Loose! Don’t Ever Bag Recyclables

Bagging recyclables makes things difficult at the sorting facility especially if the bags (like plastic) aren’t recyclable themselves. Keep recyclables loose unless instructed otherwise by your local recycling company. The only exception to this is shredded paper, which can be contained within a paper bag.

4.  Empty, Clean and Dry! Let That Be Your Recycling Motto

In my household, food and drink containers account for the majority of what ends up in the recycle bin. But did you know that putting just one food covered container in the recycle bin can contaminate an entire truckload of recyclables? So don’t toss those dirty bottles of leftover ketchup, oil, or sticky peanut butter jars into the recycling bin. Ask yourself if it’s empty, clean and dry. And when in doubt, throw it out.

5.  Here’s What You Can and Can’t Recycle

✔ Paper!

The paper should never be wet, sticky or mixed with other types of materials. Examples would be sticky notes, bubble wrap mailers, or envelopes with a clear plastic window. Used coffee cups are also a no-no. Newspapers, mail and magazines, office paper, and notebook paper get the recycle bin green light.

✔ Cardboard!

Clean moving, shipping and food boxes (cereal, crackers, cookies, etc.), as well as juice and milk containers, are recyclable as long as they’re rinsed out. The non-greasy side of a pizza box is okay too. Just tear off the dirty side, throw it away and put the clean side in the recycle bin.

Plastic bottles being recycled
✔ Plastic Bottles and Jugs!

Always empty, clean and dry! No food residue of any kind will do. With plastic try the “poke test.” If you can press your finger through the plastic it shouldn’t go in the recycling bin. That includes sandwich bags, plastic wrap, and plastic grocery bags. Grocery store bags can usually be brought back to the store for recycling.

✔ Aluminum Soda Cans, Tin Cans and Aluminum Foil (Unspoiled)!

Soda cans, as well as soup, tuna, and bean cans, are recyclable. Again- just make sure they’re empty, clean and dry! Give them a rinse and tip them over to drain before tossing in the recycle bin. Clean aluminum foil that isn’t contaminated with food is also acceptable. Never include aluminum foil with food stuck to it, bottle caps, or soda can tabs (on their own) or razor blades.

Glass Bottles in a Basket to be Recycled
Glass? It Depends…

While glass is a recyclable material, check with your local municipality to see if it accepts glass. Never put broken glass in the recycling bin. Whether it’s broken window glass or a broken beer bottle, just don’t do it. It can clog machinery and be dangerous for workers handling the recyclables.

✖ No Batteries And Electronics

Learn more about proper disposal of batteries and how to recycle electronics.

✖ No Food or food contaminated items of any kind

✖ No Foam

✖ No single-use utensils, paper plates, napkins, or paper towels

Plastic bags cannot be recycled
✖ No plastic sandwich bags, plastic wrap, or plastic grocery bags

✖ No clothing or shoes

6.  Give Your Recycling Bin the Sniff Test

If you open the lid of your recycling bin and it makes you wrinkle your nose, it’s time to give it a rinse. Foul odors are usually from throwing food contaminated items in your bin, the remnants of which can continue to contaminate your recyclables. For sticky residues, you may need to give it a good scrub with dish detergent. Always turn it over to thoroughly drip dry before filling it with recyclables.

7.  Reduce, Reuse and Then Recycle! Learn Ways to Reduce Waste 

There’s no denying that recycling is an amazing thing. But it’s also important for all of us to find ways to reduce the waste we’re creating in the first place. Small changes can make a big difference over time reducing our individual footprint on the environment.

Here are a few easy changes you can make to reduce the amount of waste in your home:

  • Pass on plastic bags! Bring reusable tote bags when shopping for groceries or other items.
  • Get a portable reusable water bottle (stainless steel is great!)
  • Bring lunch to work in reusable food containers.
  • Start meal planning to reduce waste from takeout.
  • Reuse food jars (I like to freeze soups and sauces in them)
  • Donate or repair items instead of throwing them away.
  • Review these rules of recycling and visit recyclingsimplified.com for more tips!


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